Will The Real Azarenka Please Stand Up?
Published September 17, 2012 08:56
Victoria Azarenka cuts a fairly intense figure on the tennis court. From the moment she steps out of the locker room - headphones in, hoodie up, game face on - it is clear the World No.1 is very much in 'the zone'.
Refreshingly, this strictly business act is dispensed with the moment the post-match handshake is completed.
Azarenka's Jekyll and Hyde personality was never more evident than at this year's US Open. During her run to the final in New York, fist pumps and steely eyed stares were interspersed with laugh-a-minute press conferences and plenty of off-court hijinks.
But who is the real Azarenka? The focused winning machine that has risen to the top of the women's game or the laid back joker, not adverse to a bit of playful banter in the interview room or the odd celebrity intruder?
Well, both, actually.
"On the court I'm a different person. This is what brings the best tennis out of me. Maybe if I would be just, you know, trying to smile every time I would not be as focused.
"I'm not really aware of how I am on the court, that intensity, or maybe that facial expression that I have because I can't see myself in the mirror when I'm there. I just try to be in the zone. That makes me comfortable to play."
What is comfortable for Azarenka, though, is not so comfortable for the rest of the WTA.
This year has been a standout one for the 23-year-old, seeing her reach World No.1, capture a first Grand Slam at the Australian Open and come within a whisker of adding a second with a credibility enhancing defeat in the US Open final to Serena Williams.
And although a smile in the heat of battle is something of a rarity, Azarenka insists there is nothing she likes more than being out there competing.
"Well, I enjoy intensity on the court because that's how I play. That's the zone I like to be in, you know, that makes me feel good. It makes me play my best tennis," she said.
"So I do enjoy intensity on the court, because I'm a player who gives 100% on every moment on the court.
"But I try to enjoy my moment. I feel like I don't want it to end. I'm living this great run, you know, this great opportunities that are coming at me, that I just want to continue and enjoy that ride.
"When I'm on the court, I feel like I'm in paradise, you know. I'm in that most comfortable place I can be. Why not enjoy it?"
Even if it did not always appear so, Azarenka certainly enjoyed herself in New York. She was part of three of the fortnight's best matches - her wins over Samantha Stosur and Sharapova, and her loss in the final - winning plenty of new admirers with her performances on the court and attitude off it.
Particularly impressive was her response to the heartbreak of that final defeat, fighting back the tears to deliver a gracious and moving post-match speech.
"It's amazing, absolutely. I feel like I'm in a place that I belong," Azarenka said. "It's something that you get, that energy, you know, that something special, all eyes on you waiting to see what you're going to do, it's incredible. No words can describe it.
"Being so close, it hurts deeply to know you didn't get it. But at this moment, I have no regrets. It's time to realize what happened today. You know, it was a great match."
Azarenka may not have left Flushing Meadows with the trophy, but she still came away a winner.